Happy Cinco de Mayo!
In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to learn about and celebrate Mexican coins.
Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”
Peso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.
The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.
The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.
One of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.
In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.
Mexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.
Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.
According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”
Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.
Image and share your Mexican coins with us through the Lookzee app to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us! Now available on Google Play Store and App Store.